Venezuela: Mining stopped in forest preserve

Venezuela's environment ministry has proclaimed sweeping restrictions on mining in the Imataca Forest, in Venezuela's south-east, according to a June 27 Venezuelanalysis.com article. Despite this, negotiations over mining permits continue with affected companies.

Venezuela's environment ministry has proclaimed sweeping restrictions on mining in the Imataca Forest, in Venezuela's south-east, according to a June 27 Venezuelanalysis.com article. Despite this, negotiations over mining permits continue with affected companies.

The companies who have had permits denied to open new gold mines are Canadian-based Crystallex and Spokane, and US-based Gold Reserves. The permits were denied by the ministry in April due to "environmental concerns and protests from indigenous groups in the region", Venezuelanalysis.com reported.

On May 15, environment minister Yubiri Ortega banned open-pit mining in the forest, specifying that "neither private or public companies will for now exploit Imataca's gold".

An appeal by Crystallex was denied in late May, according to the article. Ortega has since reiterated that only underground vein exploitation will be permitted, and that this is part of Venezuela's plans to "favour national interests over foreign interests" and "save and take ownership of what is ours".

However, the article reported that Ortega said that the mining bans were not permanent, but instead explained that "for the moment we do not need to exploit these minerals; as the president says, we don't need diamonds or gold, or coal".

According to June 24 company statements released by Crystallex and Gold Reserve, they believe the ministry might still grant them permits on the basis of promises for social investment and environmental reparations, based on a meeting with ministry officials.

Revealing potential divisions within the government, Crystallex claimed it obtained minutes of a June 4 meeting that show the Ministry of Basic Industries and Mining "confirmed support for Crystallex", according to Venezuelanalysis.com.

According to Crystallex, the minutes also reveal that the meeting of the economic development commission of the National Assembly sought to resolve the "lack of coordination between the various government branches" that has affected the issuing of permits.

Venezuelanalysis.com noted that "The ministry's renewal of permit discussions seems to contrast with its ban on open-pit mining". However, the article stated that "in an interview with Venezuelanalysis.com, a deputy on the Environment Commission of Venezuela's National Assembly affirmed Wednesday that definitely no new mining concessions are on the government's agenda for the Imataca Forest, and that all current mining concessions are currently undergoing 'profound revision'."

The deputy insisted that the government intends to retain the status of Imataca's 3.8 million hectares as a national forest reserve.

The Venezuelan government has promised to take control of "strategic" natural resources, including mining.

Venezuelanalysis.com noted that following the nationalisation of giant steel company, Sidor, in April, "workers at the nearby Isidora gold mine owned by Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company, which is the largest gold producer in Venezuela, blockaded a major highway and clamored for nationalization".

The workers cited "the constant violations of human rights being carried out by the management of this company". The government has since announced that Hecla's contract would undergo a revision, causing Hecla to sell its interests to a Russian company. The fate of the mine is still undecided.

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